As a result of citywide concerns about race relations following riots in 1943, Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia created the Mayor's Committee on Unity by Executive Order on February 28, 1944. Its purpose was to "make New York City a place where people of all races and religions may work and live side by side in harmony and have mutual respect for each other, and where democracy is a living reality."
The Committee had no enforcement powers, but was able to effect change by relying solely on the persuasive powers of its members. By the mid 1950s, however, it was apparent that the Committee could not address the City's problems of discrimination and bias.
In 1955, Mayor Robert F. Wagner and the City Council moved to replace the original Committee with a city agency that had more extensive powers and permanent status: the Commission on Intergroup Relations ("COIR").
COIR was given the power to receive and investigate complaints, and to initiate its own investigations into racial, religious, and ethnic group tensions on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, and ancestry. It was empowered to hold hearings, to report its findings of facts and to make recommendations to the Mayor. COIR was also charged with studying the problems of prejudice, intolerance, bigotry, discrimination and disorder caused by intergroup tension, and developing intergroup dialogue. It also coordinated efforts among federal, state and city agencies to develop courses of instruction on techniques for achieving harmonious intergroup relations within the City of New York.
The first major expansion of COIR's powers was in 1958, with the passage of the Fair Housing Practices Law (Local Law 80, the Sharkey-Brown-Isaacs Law). This legislation, which gave COIR the power to investigate and hold hearings on allegations of discrimination in private housing, was the first in the nation to extend protection against discrimination to private housing.
In 1962, the Commission on Intergroup Relations was renamed the Commission on Human Rights.
In 1965, Local Law 55 and Local Law 80 were amended and combined into Local Law 97, the Human Rights Law of the City of New York. This amendment greatly expanded the Commission's powers of investigation and enforcement, and extended the Commission's jurisdiction to prosecute discrimination based on race, creed, color and national origin in employment, public accommodations, and housing, as well as commercial space.
The next decade saw much growth in the NYC Human Rights Law. The Commission's jurisdiction was expanded through successive amendments to cover disability, gender discrimination in public accommodations, reasonable accommodations in employment for religious observances, gender and marital status in housing accommodations and commercial spaces, and age in housing and public accommodations.
Protection on the basis of mental disability is added in 1981.
In 1984, the Private Clubs Bill, Local Law 63, prohibited discrimination by private clubs with more than 400 members. Protection on the basis of citizenship and immigration status was added, and jurisdiction over housing discrimination was extended to include protection of lawful occupation and persons with children.
In 1986, landmark legislation extended coverage of the Human Rights Law to include sexual orientation.
In 1991, the Human Rights Law was extensively revised and amended.
For the first time protections in employment on the basis of conviction or arrest record was enumerated in the Administrative Code. In addition, the amendments broadened liability and they afforded new protection for individuals retaliated against for opposing discrimination.
Marital status protections were added in employment and public accommodations.
"Gender" replaced "sex" in the language of the law.
In 1993, the Human Rights Law was amended to provide remedies for bias-related harassment.
In 2001, status as a victim of domestic violence was made a protected class with regard to employment.
In April 2002, the City Human Rights Law was amended by defining "gender" to include actual or perceived sex as well as a "person's gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression, whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the legal sex assigned to that person at birth."
In December 2003, the City Human Rights Law was amended once again protecting victims of domestic violence, sex offenses and stalking in the workplace. The Law requires all employers provide reasonable accommodation to victims of these crimes.
In October 2005, the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act of 2005 was signed into law to ensure that the rights of those who live, work and play in New York City will continue to be protected by the strongest civil rights law in the country, despite any state and federal court decisions diminishing the impact of groundbreaking civil rights legislation and 50 years of precedent. The changes include, among other things:
In March 2008, the law was amended to make 'any lawful source of income' a new protected class. This amendment prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on the fact that they receive federal rent-subsidy vouchers (e.g. Section 8) or other government assistance to pay their rent.
In June 2011, Local Law 36 was signed into law. This amendment to New York City's Human Rights Law requires the Commission to educate the public on various types of bias-related harassment, including cyberbullying. In August 2011, an amendment added defining undue hardship with respect to requests for religious accommodations.
A new amendment to the City Human Rights Law in June 2013 prohibits discrimination in employment based on an individual's unemployment status.
In November 2013, the Human Rights Law was amended to prohibit bias-based profiling by law enforcement.
In 2014, two new amendments were added to the Human Rights Law.
The January amendment makes it illegal for an employer to refuse to provide a reasonable accommodation because of a pregnancy, having a child, or related medical conditions. It also requires employers to provide written notice to their employees regarding the right of pregnant workers to be free from discrimination.
The April amendment added interns to the law. Whether paid or unpaid, interns have the same protections from discrimination as employees.
Amendments made to the definitions of sexual orientation and gender in the NYC Human Rights Law.